9-time NASCAR Modified Tour series champion Mike Stefanik dies in Connecticut plane crash

Mike Stefanik, a nine-time series NASCAR Modified Tour series champion, died in a small plane crash Sunday in Connecticut, authorities said. He was 61.

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Stefanik died after the Aero Ultral-Light plane he was piloting crashed in Sterling, Connecticut, moments after taking off from Riconn Airport in Greene, Rhode Island, WPRI reported.

Stefanik is the winningest-driver in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, capturing the series title seven times, NASCAR.com reported. Stefanik also was one of two drivers to wins nine national series or touring titles, NASCAR officials said.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans is the other driver with nine titles, according to NASCAR.

Stefanik won a series-record 74 Whelen Modified Tour races in 453 starts and seven titles between 989 and 2006, according to Motorsport.com. He also was a two-time champion in the Busch North Series, now known as the K&N Pro Series East division, the website reported.

In 1998, Stefanik won both the Whelen and Busch North titles. He won 13 titles in 1998 in the Whelen series.

"Mike Stefanik was one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, but even more so, he was a true representative of our sport," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. "His tough, competitive nature and excellence on the race track won him the respect and admiration of fans and competitors alike."

The crash remains under investigation authorities said.

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